Don’t you wish you knew who your team was going to draft in the fall so you could zero in on each player during the college football season?
That’s the impossible-to-grant wish mentioned to me years ago by one of my uncles, someone who passionately followed the NFL but only occasionally tuned into the college game.
Even if you’re a monster NFL fan and also adore college football on Saturdays, it’d be nice to head into a new season with at least an idea of the prospect likely to be firmly on your favorite team’s radar next spring, right?
This series will highlight what looks to be the biggest need for every NFL team next year and the ideal fit from the college ranks to fill that void in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Today, we start with the NFC East.
Biggest need: Tight end
Ideal fit: Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam
During his first two seasons on the field at Missouri, Okwuegbunam had 72 receptions for 881 yards (12.2 yards per) with 17 touchdowns. He made 43 grabs for 466 yards with six scores in Drew Lock’s senior year in 2018.
Okwuegbunam’s 12.8% receiving-yard market share from last season isn’t gargantuan for the tight end position. It is a rather large figure for a redshirt sophomore in his second-to-last campaign in college. For context, in Zach Ertz’s second-to-last season at Stanford, his receiving-yard market share was 9.5%. Rob Gronkowski’s was 14.1%.
At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, the man many announcers call “Albert O” is a large target with reliable hands who’s consistently been a threatening downfield and yards-after-the-catch option in the Tigers’ spread offense. Per Sports Info Solutions, 47.1% of his 881 yards in 2017 and 2018 combined were accumulated after the catch. Noah Fant’s figure last year was 51.7%. T.J. Hockenson’s figure was 48.3%. Okwuegbunam flashed in contested-catch situations too. Check this snag against Alabama last season:
Even with the return of Jason Witten, the Cowboys know they need to address the future of the tight end spot. And a young, reliable, athletic tight end being drafted early makes perfect sense when it’ll likely coincide with a new, lucrative contract for quarterback Dak Prescott. Albert O is on track to be a first-round pick, and Dallas will have one again in 2020. This looks like a match made in football heaven for the Cowboys.
Biggest need: Cornerback
Ideal fit: Virginia CB Bryce Hall
Hall is a long, athletically gifted, ball-hawking cornerback who had a real chance to go in the first round of the 2019 Draft had he declared. I’m serious.
The Virginia star led Division 1 with 21 pass breakups in 2018 while snagging two picks, forcing a pair of fumbles, and finishing with a more-than-just-respectable 62 total tackles.
Listed at 6-1 and 200 pounds, Hall looks and plays like a rangy, perimeter cornerback with fluid hips and ankles and the keen awareness to know when the football is arriving. That combination is why he’s seemingly always making a play on the football when targeted even though he’s not the most twitchy corner you’ll watch this college football season.
Hall can succeed in any type of coverage but is best in off-man or zone. Check this interception on a pass from Bengals‘ 2019 fourth-round pick Ryan Finley targeted for Redskins’ sixth-round pick Kelvin Harmon from last season:
There were a few possibilities for Washington’s biggest 2020 need. I went with cornerback because Josh Norman’s play dipped in 2018, he’ll be 33 next season, and the team can save $12.5 million if he’s cut from the roster while absorbing just a $3M cap hit. Also, while the slot cornerback position is young and deep in Washington, the outside spots are lackluster.
Hall’s presence would fortify the boundary corner position for Washington as the team moves out of the Norman era.
Biggest need: Linebacker
Ideal fit: Oregon LB Troy Dye
Dye has all the makings of being an early selection in the 2020 Draft because he’s the modern-day linebacker. Listed at 6-4 and 224 pounds, he’s a sleek athlete with plus coverage skills and a frame that provides a rather large radius to break up passes down the field.
NFL teams are using more two-linebacker looks than ever, but that doesn’t mean that position is suddenly unimportant. If anything, it means great linebackers who can cover are more valuable than ever. Dye’s already put back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons on his resume, and he has nine pass breakups over the past two seasons for the Ducks.
Here’s an example of what Dye brings to the field as a coverage linebacker and the luxury provided by his 6-4 frame:
The Eagles lost play-making linebacker Jordan Hicks in free agency. Nigel Bradham will be 31 years old in 2020 and would save the team $4.4M if he’s released, although the dead cap hit of such a move would be $5.3M unless Philadelphia designated the move as a post June-1 cut, which then would save the cap-strapped team $8M in 2020 with $1.76M in dead cap and $3.52M in dead cap in 2021.
Dye would be a Bradham-like addition to the second level of Philadelphia’s defense. He’s comfortable operating in space against the run and has the athletic profile to match up with tight ends down the seam in coverage.
Biggest need: Receiver
Ideal fit: Texas WR Collin Johnson
Johnson had 985 yards in 2018, which represented just 27.2% of Texas’ receiving-yard market share, but the towering, high-point master is line to see a large jump in that percentage in 2019 with Lil’Jordan Humphrey already off to the NFL.
Humphrey made a few ridiculous grabs last season for the Longhorns, and overall was more productive — he accounted for 32.5% of the team’s receiving yards. But Johnson reeled in more difficult grabs in traffic. Per Pro Football Focus, Texas passers combined for a 140.0 quarterback rating when targeting Johnson on deep passes (throws made more than 20 yards down the field) in 2018, the best figure among all receivers in the Big 12.
The 6-6, 220-pound Johnson has smooth athleticism for such a tall receiver. This snag against USC last season illustrates his fluidity as a route runner and his rebounding expertise:
From his time in Minnesota with Stefon Diggs, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur could love the idea of drafting a small, super-speedy, route-running stud like TCU’s Jalen Reagor. But New York’s GM Dave Gettleman seemingly likes bigger wideouts in the draft. He selected Kelvin Benjamin in the first round of 2014 and traded up for Devin Funchess the next year.
Also, with Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate on the roster, the Giants could conceivably feel another slot-ish type would be redundant for 2020. Although Tate will be 32 next season, he can’t realistically be cut until 2021. Shepard, only 26, is under contract through 2023.
Johnson would complement both of those receivers well on the outside for New York and would give the team an intimidating matchup option for whoever is throwing passes for the Giants in 2020 and beyond.